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Citizen Voices Matter: In Menomonie, Wisconsin

“We bought our house on the lake for a great price in December,” explains Jim Swanson, “but by June we fully understood why the property was so undervalued.”

When Jim moved to a home on Menomonie’s Lake Tainter in 1987, he imagined enjoying the property with his family. He was excited to teach his daughters how to canoe. He looked forward to summers full of swimming and backyard cookouts. And as a master Dutch oven chef, Jim’s cookouts over carefully constructed fire pits were serious business.

“There was no way that was going to happen,” said Jim. “By June the stench from the green, mucky water in the lake was terrible. You didn’t want to be outside. You didn’t even want to open your windows. We had to travel to other places to canoe and swim. In the winter, the lake is full of ice shacks. But I have never seen anyone swimming in the lake. When the algae blooms flare up, the jet skis and water recreation disappear.”

Even when Jim’s family moved about a third of a mile away to a home in North Menomomie, they still couldn’t escape the smell of the polluted lake. He describes the water as being good until Memorial Day. But later in the summer, any southerly wind becomes a reminder that the water quality in the lake is extremely degraded.

Jim did what he could to make a difference. He has spent hundreds of hours volunteering in trout stream restoration projects designed to prevent erosion and runoff from entering the streams that feed the lake. He even served on the DNR-sponsored Red Cedar Basin Committee in the mid-90s to create a plan to improve the health of the watershed. But after two years of stakeholder discussions, the DNR shelved the plans.

“The lake will only be improved if we have real action by the DNR,” said Jim. “Stream restoration projects are important, but they only have a localized impact. The DNR has had the science and the power to fix the problem for decades. But the agency has simply avoided the work. The EPA must get involved if we will ever get our healthy, swimmable lakes back.”


Jim Swanson is a resident of Menomonie, Wisconsin and is a retired alternative school teacher. A lifelong outdoorsman and outdoor writer, Jim’s favorite activities include hunting, fishing, canoeing and outdoor cooking.

He signed the Petition for Corrective Action to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to encourage the State of Wisconsin and its Department of Natural Resources to fully comply with the Clean Water Act.